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Self-Imposed Age Discrimination: When You’re Your Worst Enemy

This life coach says older job seekers and workers limit themselves


Age discrimination is a big issue, especially for older workers and job seekers. In a 2013 AARP survey of employed Americans and job hunters aged 45 to 74, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said they’d witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. And age discrimination reports filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose by 36 percent from 1997 to 2013.

But what gets less coverage and attention is self-imposed age discrimination. That’s right: job hunters and workers in their 50s and 60s holding themselves back because of their own limiting belief story about their prospects due to their age. (Limiting beliefs refer to thoughts or stories you tell yourself that don’t support you and impact your choices and behavior.)

Pointing Fingers

Why is this? And, more importantly, how can they avoid being their own worst enemy?

It’s easier to assign blame than to take personal responsibility. As a life coach, I see this all of the time. Generally, people are completely unprepared to take a look at themselves, but have a ton of experience pointing the finger at someone else.

Generally, people are completely unprepared to take a look at themselves, but have a ton of experience pointing the finger at someone else.

I also believe that age discrimination is a good story and personal responsibility/empowerment is not. When the media reports on an age discrimination case, people listen and ratings go up. Around the water cooler at the office, talk about age discrimination makes employees prick up their ears.

But if the media tried running a story on how there’s some age discrimination that’s self-imposed… Well, the target market doesn’t want to hear that messaging.

How Older Workers Limit Themselves

I see three ways that self-imposed age discrimination shows up:

Older job seekers and employees don’t apply for jobs or positions they are qualified to do. Many don’t even bother going after openings they could fill because they’ve led themselves to believe they’d never get the job.

They describe an age-discrimination age ceiling, but unfortunately that ceiling is often self-created by beliefs such as: “I’m too old for that type of job” or “I’m too old for that promotion.”

They downplay themselves in job interviews. Many times, older applicants push to get interviews, but during those meetings, their limiting story starts to shine through. Then, instead of selling themselves, they end up just telling their limiting age story and subconsciously convince the interviewer that they are too old for the opportunity.

They use self-imposed age discrimination as a defense mechanism against rejection. As long as the finger is pointed at someone else, they think, it’s seemingly not their fault if they don’t get hired or promoted. For instance, if something doesn’t work out at work, its really easy to blame age discrimination rather than being critical enough to see if there was something that you did or didn’t do.

2 Ways to Stop Limiting Yourself

And how can you avoid being your worst enemy? Here are my two recommendations to clear yourself of your own limiting stories about age:

1. Figure out what your limiting belief story is regarding age discrimination. It could be affecting how you progress in life. For instance, do you really believe you are too old to do something? If the answer is “yes,” that’s a limiting belief, especially if it’s not a fact.

If you have trouble distinguishing your story, I recommend speaking to a life coach, a career coach or a recruiting consultant. These professionals can assist in reflecting your thoughts back to you to make you more aware of self-imposing behavior.

2. Change your story! It’s not serving anything, and, in fact, is limiting your progress and perhaps increasing your popularity at work. Change your story to something that empowers you and allows you to progress.

For instance, if your story is “I’m too old for this position,” switch it up to something more empowering like: “I have the experience required for this job.”

Keep in mind the framework that our thoughts lead to our actions, which lead to our habits, which lead to our character, which leads to our destiny. So if we have disempowering thoughts, the rest will also be disempowered.

Everyone has the power within to achieve prolonged success spanning their entire career. Always maintain an optimistic view of your future based on your passion for what you do, your personal goals and the experience you have — which no one can take away from you.

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